Deforestation and climate change

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tropical deforestation – given as the annual average between 2010 and 2014 – was responsible for 2.6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. That was 6.5% of global CO2 emission. International trade was responsible for around one-third (29%) of the emissions. Most emissions – 71% – came from foods consumed in the country that they were produced (domestic demand).

Deforestation is a primary contributor to climate change,[1][2] and climate change affects forests.[3] Land use changes, especially in the form of deforestation,[4] are the second largest anthropogenic source of atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions, after fossil fuel combustion.[5] Greenhouse gases are emitted during combustion of forest biomass and decomposition of remaining plant material and soil carbon. Global models and national greenhouse gas inventories give similar results for deforestation emissions.[4] As of 2019, deforestation is responsible for about 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[6] Carbon emissions from tropical deforestation are accelerating.[7][8] Growing forests are a carbon sink with additional potential to mitigate the effects of climate change. Some of the effects of climate change, such as more wildfires,[9] insect outbreaks, invasive species, and storms are factors that increase deforestation.[10][11]

Forests cover 31% of the land area on Earth and annually 75,700 square kilometers (18.7 million acres) of the forest is lost.[12] According to the World Resources Institute, there was a 12% increase in the loss of primary tropical forests from 2019 to 2020.[13]

Deforestation is often described as the changing of land from forested to non-forested by means both natural and unnatural. The relationship between deforestation and climate change is one of a positive feedback loop.[14] The more trees that are removed equals larger effects of climate change which, in turn, results in the loss of more trees.[15]

Deforestation comes in many forms: wildfire, agricultural clearcutting, livestock ranching, and logging for timber, among others.

Causes of deforestation[edit]

This screen shot shows a map that highlights countries based on their net change rate of forest area. Areas that appear more blue have a higher net change rate than areas that appear tan. Brown areas indicate a net loss of forest area.
Forest area net change rate per country in 2020

Causes not linked to climate change[edit]

Causes due to climate change[edit]

Moreland logging trucks
The rate of global tree cover loss has approximately doubled since 2001, to an annual loss approaching an area the size of Italy.[16]
Amazon slash-and-burn agriculture, Colombia
Emerging signals of declining forest resilience under climate change[17]
Temporal variations of forest resilience and its key drivers[17]

Another cause of deforestation is due to the effects of climate change: More wildfires,[18] insect outbreaks, invasive species, and more frequent extreme weather events (such as storms) are factors that increase deforestation.[19]

A study suggests that "tropical, arid and temperate forests are experiencing a significant decline in resilience, probably related to increased water limitations and climate variability" which may shift ecosystems towards critical transitions and ecosystem collapses.[17] By contrast, "boreal forests show divergent local patterns with an average increasing trend in resilience, probably benefiting from warming and CO2 fertilization, which may outweigh the adverse effects of climate change".[17] It has been proposed that a loss of resilience in forests "can be detected from the increased temporal autocorrelation (TAC) in the state of the system, reflecting a decline in recovery rates due to the critical slowing down (CSD) of system processes that occur at thresholds".[17]

23% of tree cover losses result from wildfires and climate change increase their frequency and power.[20] The rising temperatures cause massive wildfires especially in the Boreal forests. One possible effect is the change of the forest composition.[21] Deforestation can also cause forests to become more fire prone through mechanisms such as logging.[22]
Palm oil plantation, Israel

Effects of deforestation on climate change aspects[edit]

Biophysical mechanisms by which forests influence climate

According to a review, north of 50°N, large scale deforestation leads to an overall net global cooling while tropical deforestation leads to substantial warming not just due to CO2 impacts but also due to other biophysical mechanisms (making carbon-centric metrics inadequate). Irreversible deforestation would result in a permanent rise in the global surface temperature.[23] Moreover, it suggests that standing tropical forests help cool the average global temperature by more than 1 °C.[24][25]

Deforestation of tropical forests may risk triggering tipping points in the climate system and of forest ecosystem collapse which would also have effects on climate change.[26][27][28][29]

Deforestation, particularly in large swaths of the Amazon, where nearly 20% of the rainforest has been clear cut, has climactic effects and effects on water sources as well as on the soil.[30][31] Moreover, the type of land usage after deforestation also produces varied results. When deforested land is converted to pasture land for livestock grazing it has a greater effect on the ecosystem than forest to cropland conversions.[32] Other effect of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is seen through the greater amount of carbon dioxide emission. The Amazon rainforest absorbs one-fourth of the carbon dioxide emissions on Earth, however, the amount of CO2 absorbed today decreases by 30% than it was in the 1990s due to deforestation.[33]

Modeling studies have concluded that there are two crucial moments that can lead to devastating effects in the Amazon rainforest which are increase in temperature by 4 °C and deforestation reaching a level of 40%.[34]

Decrease in climate services[edit]

Human activity such as deforestation for livestock grazing and fuel wood has led to forest degradation and over extraction resulting in ecosystem biodiversity loss. Loss and degradation of forest has a direct impact on the Earth's diverse flora and fauna and, therefore, on climate change because they are the best defense against CO2 buildup in the atmosphere.[35][36][37] If there is more foliage photosynthesizing more CO2 will be absorbed, thereby balancing the potential temperature increases.[38]

Forests are nature's atmospheric carbon sink; plants take in atmospheric carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and convert the carbon into sugars and plant materials through the process of photosynthesis.[39] The carbon is stored within the trees, vegetation, and soil of the forests. Studies show that "intact forests", in fact, do sequester carbon.[40] Examples of large forests that have a significant impact on the balance of carbon include the Amazonian and the Central African rainforests.[41] However, deforestation disrupts the processes of carbon sequestration and affects localized climates. Additionally, cutting down trees plays a role in a positive feedback loop centered around climate change on a much larger scale, as studies are finding.[40]

When a climate changes, this causes the shift in a species' geographic range in order to maintain the climatic conditions (temperature, humidity) it is accustomed to. Ecological zones will shift by approximately 160 km per 1 degree Celsius.[38] A reduction in the area of any habitat, but particularly in forest habitat along with climatic change, enables species invasion and the possibility of biotic homogenization as stronger invasive species can take over weaker species in a fragile ecosystem.[38] Humans will also be impacted by the loss of biodiversity as food, energy, and other 'ecosystem goods and services' patterns are disrupted.[42]

Burning or cutting down trees reverses the effects of carbon sequestration and releases greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere.[41] Furthermore, deforestation changes the landscape and reflectivity of earth's surface, i.e. decreasing Albedo. This results in an increase in the absorption of light energy from the sun in the form of heat, enhancing global warming.[40]

Changes in rainfall[edit]

As a consequence of reduced evapotranspiration, precipitation is also reduced. This implies having a hotter and drier climate, and a longer dry season.[43][44] This change in climate has drastic ecological and global impacts including increases in severity and frequency of fires, and disruption in the pollination process that will likely spread beyond the area of deforestation.[44][43]

According to a study published in 2023, tropical deforestation has led to a significant decrease in the amount of observed precipitation.[45] By the year 2100, researchers anticipate that deforestation in the Congo will diminish regional precipitation levels by up to 8-10%.[45]

Forest fires[edit]

Statistics have shown that there is a direct correlation between forest fires and deforestation. Statistics regarding the Brazilian Amazon area during the early 2000s have shown that fires and the air pollution that accompanies these fires mirror the patterns of deforestation and "high deforestation rates led to frequent fires".[46]

The Amazon rainforest has recently experienced fires that occurred inside the forest when wildfires tend to occur on the outer edges of the forest.[13] Wetlands have faced an increase in forest fires as well.[13] Due to the change in temperature, the climate around forests have become warm and dry, conditions that allow forest fires to occur.[13]

Under unmitigated climate change, by the end of the century, 21% of the Amazon would be vulnerable to post‐fire grass invasion. In 3% of the Amazon, fire return intervals are already shorter than the time required for grass exclusion by canopy recovery, implying a high risk of irreversible shifts to a fire‐maintained degraded forest grassy state. The south‐eastern region of the Amazon is currently at highest risk of irreversible degradation.[47]

According to a study in tropical peatland forest of Borneo, deforestation also contributes to the increase in fire risk.[48]

Control measures and their effects on climate change[edit]

Reducing deforestation[edit]

Carbon sequestration through forestry[edit]

Trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. Throughout this biochemical process, chlorophyll in the tree's leaves harnesses sunlight to convert CO2 and water into glucose and oxygen.[49] While glucose serves as a source of energy for the tree, oxygen is released into the atmosphere as a byproduct. Trees store carbon in the form of biomass, encompassing roots, stems, branches, and leaves. Throughout their lifespan, trees continue to sequester carbon, acting as long-term storage units for atmospheric CO2.[50] Sustainable forest management, afforestration, reforestation and proforestation are therefore important contributions to climate change mitigation. Afforestation is the establishment of a forest in an area where there was no previous tree cover. Proforestation is the practice of growing an existing forest intact toward its full ecological potential.[51] An important consideration in such efforts is that the carbon sink potential of forests will saturate[52] and forests can turn from sinks to carbon sources.[53][54] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that a combination of measures aimed at increasing forest carbon stocks, andsustainable timber offtake will generate the largest carbon sequestration benefit.[55]

In terms of carbon retention on forest land, it is better to avoid deforestation than to remove trees and subsequently reforest, as deforestation leads to irreversible effects e.g. biodiversity loss and soil degradation.[56] Additionally, the effects of af- or reforestation will be farther in the future compared to keeping existing forests intact.[57] It takes much longer − several decades − for reforested areas to return to the same carbon sequestration levels found in mature tropical forests.[58]

There are four primary ways in which reforestation and reducing deforestation can increase carbon sequestration. First, by increasing the volume of existing forest. Second, by increasing the carbon density of existing forests at a stand and landscape scale.[59] Third, by expanding the use of forest products that will sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions. Fourth, by reducing carbon emissions that are caused from deforestation and degradation.[60]

The planting of trees on marginal crop and pasture lands helps to incorporate carbon from atmospheric CO
into biomass.[61][62] For this carbon sequestration process to succeed the carbon must not return to the atmosphere from biomass burning or rotting when the trees die.[63] To this end, land allotted to the trees must not be converted to other uses and management of the frequency of disturbances might be necessary in order to avoid extreme events. Alternatively, the wood from them must itself be sequestered, e.g., via biochar, bio-energy with carbon storage (BECS), landfill or stored by use in construction.

Reforestation with long-lived trees (>100 years) will sequester carbon for substantial periods and be released gradually, minimizing carbon's climate impact during the 21st century. Earth offers enough room to plant an additional 1.2 trillion trees.[64] Planting and protecting them would offset some 10 years of CO2 emissions and sequester 205 billion tons of carbon.[65] This approach is supported by the Trillion Tree Campaign. Restoring all degraded forests world-wide would capture about 205 billion tons of carbon in total, which is about two-thirds of all carbon emissions.[66][67]

During a 30-year period to 2050 if all new construction globally utilized 90% wood products, largely via adoption of mass timber in low rise construction, this could sequester 700 million net tons of carbon per year,[68][69] thus negating approximately 2% of annual carbon emissions as of 2019.[70] This is in addition to the elimination of carbon emissions from the displaced construction material such as steel or concrete, which are carbon-intense to produce.
Scioto grove reforestation area

Reforestation, afforestation and agroforestry[edit]

Possible methods of reforestation include large-scale industrial plantations, the introduction of trees into existing agricultural systems, small-scale plantations by landowners, the establishment of woodlots on communal lands, and the rehabilitation of degraded areas through tree planting or assisted natural regeneration.[71]

Afforestation at Kanakakunnu

Afforestation is the planting of trees where there was no previous tree coverage. There are three different types of afforestation that could have varying effects on the amount of carbon dioxide that is taken from the atmosphere. The three kinds of afforestation are natural regeneration, commercial plantations, and agroforestry.[72] Although afforestation can help reduce the carbon emissions given off as a result of climate change, natural regeneration tends to be the most effective out of the three.[72] Natural regeneration typically concerns a wide variety of vegetation, making natural forest levels so plants can receive sunlight to undergo photosynthesis. Commercial plantations typically result in mass amounts of lumber, which if used for fuel, will release the stored CO2 back into the atmosphere. Agroforestry stores energy based on the size and type of plant, meaning that the effect will vary depending on what is planted.[72]

Wood harvesting and supply have reached around 550 million m3 per year, while the total increasing stock of European forests has more than quadrupled during the previous six decades. It now accounts for around 35 billion m3 of forest biomass.[73][74] Since the beginning of the 1990s, the amounts of wood and carbon stored in European forests have increased by 50% due to greater forest area and biomass stocks. Every year, European woods adsorb and store around 155 million tonnes CO2 equivalent. This is comparable to 10% of all other sectors' emissions in Europe.[73][75][76]

The forestry industry tries to mitigate climate change by boosting carbon storage in growing trees and soils and improving the sustainable supply of renewable raw materials via sustainable forest management.[73][77]

Concerns with forestry projects[edit]

Forestry projects have faced increasing criticism of their integrity as offset or credit programs. A number of news stories in 2021–2023 have criticized nature-based carbon offsets, the REDD+ program, and certification organizations.[78][79][80] In one case it was estimated that around 90% of rainforest offset credits of the Verified Carbon Standard are likely to be "phantom credits".[81]

Tree planting projects in particular have been problematic. Critics point to a number of concerns. Trees reach maturity over a course of many decades. It is difficult to guarantee how long the forest will last. It may suffer clearing, burning, or mismanagement.[82][83] Some tree-planting projects introduce fast-growing invasive species. These end up damaging native forests and reducing biodiversity.[84][85][86] In response, some certification standards such as the Climate Community and Biodiversity Standard require multiple species plantings.[87] Tree planting in high latitude forests may have a net warming effect on the Earth's climate. This is because tree cover absorbs sunlight. This creates a warming effect that balances out their absorption of carbon dioxide.[88] Tree-planting projects can also cause conflicts with local communities and Indigenous people. This happens if the project displaces them or otherwise curtails their use of forest resources.[89][90][91]

Policies and programs[edit]

Deforestation in Bolivia

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries[edit]

REDD+ (or REDD-plus) is a framework to encourage developing countries to reduce emissions and enhance removals of greenhouse gases through a variety of forest management options, and to provide technical and financial support for these efforts. The acronym refers to "reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries".[92] REDD+ is a voluntary climate change mitigation framework developed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[93] REDD originally referred to "reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries", which was the title of the original document on REDD.[94] It was superseded by REDD+ in the Warsaw Framework on REDD-plus negotiations.Since 2000, various studies estimate that land use change, including deforestation and forest degradation, accounts for 12-29% of global greenhouse gas emissions.[95][96][97] For this reason the inclusion of reducing emissions from land use change is considered essential to achieve the objectives of the UNFCCC.[98]

The Bali Action Plan[edit]

The Bali Action Plan was developed in December 2007 in Bali, Indonesia.[99][100] It is a direct result of The Kyoto Protocol of December 1997.[101][37] One of the key elements of The Bali Action Plan involves a concerted effort by the member countries of The Kyoto Protocol to enact and create policy approaches that incentivize emissions reduction caused by deforestation and forest degradation in the developing world.[102] It emphasized the importance of sustainable forest management and conservation practices in mitigating climate change. This coupled with the increased attention to carbon emission stocks as a way to provide additional resource flows to the developing countries.[37]

Trillion Tree Campaign[edit]

The Billion Tree Campaign was launched in 2006 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as a response to the challenges of global warming, as well as to a wider array of sustainability challenges, from water supply to biodiversity loss.[103] Its initial target was the planting of one billion trees in 2007. Only one year later in 2008, the campaign's objective was raised to 7 billion trees—a target to be met by the climate change conference that was held in Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009. Three months before the conference, the 7 billion planted trees mark had been surpassed. In December 2011, after more than 12 billion trees had been planted, UNEP formally handed management of the program over to the not-for-profit Plant-for-the-Planet initiative, based in Munich, Germany.[104]

The Amazon Fund (Brazil)[edit]

Four-year plan to reduce in deforestation in the Amazon

Considered the largest reserve of biological diversity in the world, the Amazon Basin is also the largest Brazilian biome, taking up almost half the nation's territory. The Amazon Basin corresponds to two fifths of South America's territory. Its area of approximately seven million square kilometers covers the largest hydrographic network on the planet, through which runs about one fifth of the fresh water on the world's surface. Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is a major cause to climate change due to the decreasing number of trees available to capture increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.[105]

The Amazon Fund is aimed at raising donations for non-reimbursable investments in efforts to prevent, monitor and combat deforestation, as well as to promote the preservation and sustainable use of forests in the Amazon Biome, under the terms of Decree N.º 6,527, dated August 1, 2008.[106] The Norwegian Government, which is the largest donor to the fund, froze its funding in 2019 over deforestation concerns. Norway has tied the resumption of funding to proof of a reduction in deforestation.[107]

The Amazon Fund supports the following areas: management of public forests and protected areas, environmental control, monitoring and inspection, sustainable forest management, economic activities created with sustainable use of forests, ecological and economic zoning, territorial arrangement and agricultural regulation, preservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, and recovery of deforested areas. Besides those, the Amazon Fund may use up to 20% of its donations to support the development of systems to monitor and control deforestation in other Brazilian biomes and in biomes of other tropical countries.[106]

See also[edit]


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